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The Mutual Protection of Southeast China (Chinese: 東南互保) was an agreement made by the governors of the provinces in Southeast China during the Eight Power Expedition in 1900. The governors, including Li Hongzhang, Liu Kunyi, Zhang Zhidong and Yuan Shikai, refused to carry out the imperial decree promulgated by the Qing government to declare war on 11 countries, with the aim of preserving peace in their own provinces.

Course[edit | edit source]

Even before the declaration of war by the Qing court in 1900, governors of the provinces in Southeast China had discussed the ways to preserve peace in their territories, primarily against the invasion by foreign powers. Amongst them were Liu Kunyi (Viceroy of Liangjiang), Zhang Zhidong (Viceroy of Huguang) and Li Hongzhang (Viceroy of Liangguang). They had also concluded that in case Peking fell and the status of the Emperor and the Empress Dowager were unknown, Li Hongzhang would be the President of China to settle the situation.

On 21 June 1900, the Empress Dowager issued the Imperial Decree of declaration of war against foreign powers (Chinese:宣戰詔書) on behalf of the Emperor, against 11 countries simultaneously, namely Russian Empire, United States, United Kingdom, Japan, France, German Empire, Italy, Spain, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The then Minister for Telegraphy, Sheng Xuanhuai, managed to stop the imperial decree and another decree to gather the Boxer rebels from going public. Instead the decrees were only shown to the governors, together with a telegram instructing them not to follow the imperial order. Li Hongzhang, Yuan Shikai and other viceroys openly rejected the Dowager's call for staging military actions against the foreign powers. Li Hongzhang in particular issued a telegram, stating 'This is a wrong order, and the Province of Guangdong won't obey' (此亂命也,粵不奉詔).[1] Zhang Zhidong tabled again the proposal to make Li Hongzhang the President of China in case Peking fell.[2]

Later on, the governors reached an agreement with the belligerent states, asking the foreign powers to not invade their provinces no matter what happens to the North (i.e. Peking) (無論北方情形如何,請列國勿進兵長江流域與各省內地).

Significance[edit | edit source]

This event marked the first time that Han officials openly refuse to obey orders from the Manchu court (Li Hongzhang, Liu Kunyi, Zhang Zhidong were all Han Chinese). From the perspective of the provinces, the event successfully prevented war and turmoil from affecting their territories. After the Eight Power Expedition, the local authorities saw the need to enhance their military strength in order to defend themselves against foreign invasions. This gave rise to future warlords in the Warlord Era.

From the perspective of the Qing court, the Eight Power Expedition, together with the series of military confrontations she made with foreign powers, hurt national pride. In particular, this event showed how prominent regionalism had become as local authorities refuse to abide by the imperial order. These led to the fear of dismemberment of the state. Hence the government made attempts to recentralise power and win back support. For example, she proposed to prepare for a constitution, a royal cabinet, together with a series of reforms. But these actions were mainly seen as insincere as their chief intent was to prolong the Manchu rule, instead of strengthening China and sharing power with other races. These reforms did little to save the Qing court, and imperial rule ended in 1911 by the Chinese Revolution.

See also[edit | edit source]

  1. 庚子國變記,作者:羅惇曧。
  2. 絕版李鴻章,作者:張社生,文匯出版社,ISBN 9787807414285。

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